wears the trousers magazine

jenny owen youngs: transmitter failure (2009)
May 25, 2009, 11:40 am
Filed under: album, review, video | Tags: , , ,


Jenny Owen Youngs
Transmitter Failure ••••

A bit frustrated by performing to a still crowd at her gigs, Jenny Owen Youngs approached the writing of her second album, Transmitter Failure, with the intention to get people dancing – if only just a little. The 40-second banjo ditty opener ‘First Person’ might get some handclaps but the results from recent single ‘Led To The Sea’ are sure to be greater. It kicks in sounding like The Killers, with an eager-to-please energy, solid structure and a massive hook. Lyrically it’s not quite as uplifting: less sandcastles, more drowning love. ‘Dissolve’ continues the indie-rock sound, with tension-filled bridges leading to a rousing chorus.

The opening lines from ‘Here Is A Heart’ shows Owen Youngs’s quotable, dry sense of humour: “Here is a heart / I made it for you / so take it / battered and braised / grilled and sauteed / just how you like it”. Musically, it pulls things back a bit: the vocals are over layered piano, strings and percussion, with subtle production. It’s one of the most beautifully twisted imaginings of giving yourself to someone. ‘Clean Break’ takes Transmitter Failure‘s sound into different area. Seemingly taking its musical cues from spaghetti western themes, the simple strumming and crying-out-for-audience-participation chorus of this ode to sex is sure to fulfill Owen Youngs’s desire to get the people active. 

After all that romp, the nice-enough ‘If I Didn’t Know’ is a drop in the album’s momentum. But soon it twists us round to ‘What Beats Within’ and returns to a playful sound: a hypnotic woodwind and accordion march during the verses, it flips to almost Gaelic folk for the chorus, during which Owen Youngs bizarrely resembles Client’s Sarah Blackwood. Owen Youngs’s voice is free from quirks, which allows her to experiment with it between songs as much as she does with her instrumentation. This can be as confusing as it can be effective: in the last minute of ‘Secrets’ – Owen Youngs’s demonstration of her blithe approach to relationships – she appears to be channelling Courtney Love, which is at once both terrifying and amazing. 

The delivery style changes again on ‘No More Words’, aptly sounding as though Owen Youngs is barely moving her jaw as she pushes the lyrics out. Buried under a wash of guitar, the mumbling is contrasted with the higher octaves of a piano. Largely shunning immediacy for soundscaping, it’s a welcome further dimension to Transmitter Failure. At 6.30, it’s also the longest track here. The ambience is abruptly burst by the fast-paced country of ‘Last Person’, and as Transmitter Failure progresses to its end, the songs return to grandiose. The title track sounds like it was made especially for a glossy, emotional, televisual climax before ‘Start + Stop’ brings the album to a close just as it began: with Jenny and a banjo. This ties everything neatly together, having taken us full circle.

Except it isn’t a circle. There are some abrupt turns and possibly dangerous chicanes for those who aren’t paying enough attention. It is an exhilarating journey though – the huge hooks work, the genre-hopping works, the network television moments work for what they are. There is just a lot to absorb.

Daniel Clatworthy
UK release date: 25/05/09; www.myspace.com/jennyowenyoungs


‘Clean Break’


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[…] – O+S [Alan Pedder 12/4] 13 Björk – Voltaïc [Léigh Bartlam 21/6] 14 Jenny Owen Youngs – Transmitter Failure [Daniel Clatworthy 25/5] 15 Joker’s Daughter – The Last Laugh [Charlotte Richardson Andrews […]

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[…] previously unreleased material including four tracks from last year’s Transmitter Failure [review] recorded live “in the Basement” and a “re-think” of another album track, […]

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